Republican trying to break Democratic hold on Montgomery County Commission

Voters will decide if the three-person Montgomery County Commission will remain solely in the hands of one party when they pick between Republican Doug Barry and Democrat Carolyn Rice in November.

Democrats have controlled all three seats for more than a decade, but the open seat came when incumbent Dan Foley did not seek re-election and instead set sights on the Statehouse against Republican Rep. J. Todd Smith for a 43rd House District seat.

Barry, a Miami Twp. resident and owner of BarryStaff in Dayton, would become the first non-Democrat in a dozen years to take a commission seat if he wins. Rice, a Kettering resident and county treasurer for more than 11 years, would move upstairs at the Montgomery County Administration Building if she wins.

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The candidates have shown agreement on some issues — including the importance in combating the local opioid crisis — but a recent quarter-percent county sales tax increase emerged as the most divisive issue during the campaign.

Rice said current county commissioners “made a difficult decision” to raise the sales tax after a yearlong review of programs, including those that support the arts and economic development that would have been cut without an increase.

“It was made carefully and with a broad range of community input,” Rice said. “No one wants to increase sales tax, but it was the only choice the county commissioners had if they were to do what is in the community’s best interest.”

Barry, who led an unsuccessful petition drive to overturn the tax measure, said the county didn’t look hard enough for cost savings before enacting an increase. The higher rate is expected to generate an additional $19.1 million a year and moves Montgomery County into the three highest-taxed districts in the state.

“There are areas we can rein it in if it meant the difference between taxing our citizens and not,” he said. “I don’t run my business the same way I did 10 or 15 years ago. I’ve adapted. The county needs to adapt too.”

The sales tax increase, which took effect Oct. 1, will cost each county resident about $36 a year. Montgomery County joins Franklin County and parts of Delaware and Union counties at a combined rate of 7.5 percent. Only Cuyahoga County at 8 percent and a portion of Licking County at 7.75 percent are higher.

Both candidates have said they will push state lawmakers to return more funding to local governments. Columbus gets the lion’s share of sales tax revenue. Of each dollar spent on items and services subject to sales tax in Montgomery County, 5.75 percent goes to the state, the county keeps 1.25 percent and 0.5 percent goes to the Greater Dayton Regional Transit Authority.

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Opiods and the jail

Rice and Barry both cited the opioid crisis as one of the county’s most vexing, one that touches many aspects of county government. They each support litigation against drug manufacturers to recover costs the crisis heaped on the county.

The embattled Montgomery County Jail — hit with more than a dozen federal lawsuits within the past five years alleging mistreatment of inmates and overcrowding — should not be the county’s de facto mental hospital, both said in their responses for the Dayton Daily News’ Election 2018 Voter Guide.

“It is stressed by being asked to do more than it was designed to do. It was never meant to be a mental health facility, a drug treatment facility, or a prison for people convicted of felonies,” Rice said. “Poor decision-making at the state level has forced it to become all of these things. As a result, the jail is currently understaffed and overpopulated.”

Barry said jail officials should not be in the position of housing those with mental illness who account for roughly 30 percent of inmate population at any given time.

“We need to get them out of the jail, and we do this by working hand in hand with our great health care community to better rehabilitate them,” Barry said. “Once that change is made, we’ll have plenty of room in the jail for criminals who deserve to be there.”

Barry said it’s also important county commissioners work more closely with the sheriff on jail-related issues.

Plans for jobs

Each says they will work on an economic development plan for the region.

Rice, who worked 14 years for private corporations before joining government, said her focus will be an initiative called Global Dayton, a plan to market the region internationally as well as broaden the perspective of local businesses.

“I want to help companies here identify the opportunities and unmet needs of our community and the ways in which we can connect across the globe,” she said.

Barry, who has headed the Dayton staffing company BarryStaff since his father died in 1998, said he would put together a plan involving local entities such as the Downtown Dayton Partnership, Dayton Development Coalition, Citywide Development and the Montgomery County Port Authority.

“We need to put together a plan with tangible measurables to help our local businesses grow and to attract companies to the region,” he said.

Barry also said the region has suffered from a hollowing of population exacerbated by a low-performing Dayton Public Schools District.

“The problem is that families won’t move in as long as DPS — and its perception — suffer. The millennials will head back out in a few years once they start having children,” he said. “Without more families living in Dayton, downtown and its neighborhoods all suffer. And the fact is Dayton needs to be strong if we want Montgomery County as a whole to be strong.”

Rice said the Great Recession had a lasting effect on the region’s families, health care systems and criminal justice programs — and housing.

During her time as county treasurer, Rice said she worked with state and local officials to create the Montgomery County Land Bank, which brought in more than $25 million in funding to reduce blight and stabilize neighborhoods. More than 1,250 families were kept in their homes through the county’s Foreclosure Mediation Program, Rice said.

“These are examples of initiatives I led that were not in the treasurer’s job description but were the right things to do to help solve some very real problems in our community,” Rice said.

A Miami Twp. trustee for five years, Barry said during that time the township attracted more than $70 million in development, trimmed fire department response times through a collaboration with Miamisburg and passed safety upgrades for the Miami Twp. Police headquarters.

“We did it all in the face of dwindling funds from the state,” he said.

Barry became the Republican frontrunner after Bill DeFries, a local restaurant owner earned support of prominent members of the party but dropped out of the running after a short, eight-week campaign. Barry then defeated Gary Leitzell, a former Dayton mayor, and Bob Matthews, a former Miami Twp. trustee, in the May primary.

Rice made the general election ballot with a primary victory over Dr. Don Shaffer, a former Clayton council member and chiropractor with a West Milton practice.

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